Sweet anticipation

Cinema 4 at HOYTS, Forest Hill Shopping Centre...

Image via Wikipedia

As 2011 begins its merry descent, and 2012 is almost visible upon the horizon, here are some films I’m looking forward to watching soon.

The 2011 remake of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is supposed to hit stateside in early December. I’m interested in seeing it, but jury’s still out if I’ll catch in the theaters. Although I gotta admit, the trailer (see below) looks intriguing (and it includes a couple of flashes of a library). Truth, I’m a sucker for spy thrillers. And British accents. Yes, I’m an American, and I love British accents. Guilty. (Except I don’t feel guilty about it! ;))

Bu I’m generally picky about what I see in the theaters — I do like escapism, and watching movies in a big movie theater brings out the eager-eyed kid in me — and analyzing reel librarians is more like work (totally FUN work, but still, sometimes it’s work). So I tend to prefer to watch my librarian movies from home. This way, I can pause, take notes, take screenshots, etc., at my leisure and timeframe. And in sweatpants. TMI?

But it might be fun to do some posts about my first impressions in the theater, and follow up with more in-depth analysis later on.

Another film I’m looking forward to is Black Gold, which is supposed to open in the U.S. in late December. A friend of mine and fellow librarian was able to watch its premiere at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in late October and passed the info along to me (thank you, Facebook).

Here’s the plot summary on IMDb: “Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centers on a young Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father and modern, liberal father-in-law.” The film’s big stars include Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong, and Freida Pinto (and in typical Hollywood tradition, it looks like they all play Arabs — a Spaniard, an Englishman, and an Indian — sigh).

And my librarian friend says that the main character is a librarian. BONUS!

In the film’s trailer, below, the character as a young boy is seen reading a book — foreshadowing?


A brief encounter with a librarian

Brief Encounter (1945) is one of the greats. Yet it’s one of those films that still flies pretty low under the radar — but those who have seen it and share it with each other light up in remembrance. It’s a simple, quiet film, heartbreakingly beautiful. With the best use of Rachmaninoff EVER.

The film, based on Noel Coward‘s 1935 one-act play Still Life, stars Celia Johnson (luminous in an Oscar-nominated role) as Laura Jesson, an ordinary English wife and mother, and Trevor Howard as Dr. Alec Harvey, an ordinary English husband and father. They meet one day by chance and fall in love. It’s that simple. But life is never really that simple, is it?

Almost twenty minutes into the film, Laura’s going about her usual shopping day in nearby Milford. She walks past a display window, full of new “holiday reads.” We then see her in what looks to be a kind of public library, smiling with a friendly female librarian (uncredited). The library is lined with shelves, with a main desk in the center stacked with books. The librarian is a white female with short, wavy blonde hair. She looks to be in her 30’s, appears quite friendly, and is dressed in a quite stylish cardigan (yes, there ARE some out there) with what looks to be military-style embellishments.

Boot’s Lending Library

Laura narrates:  “I changed my book at Boots. Miss Lewis had at last managed to get the new Kate O’Brien for me. I believe she’d kept it hidden under the counter for two days.”

Note:  Kate O’Brien was an Irish novelist and playwright (1897-1974), who explored gay/lesbian themes in several of her works. Some of her work was quite controversial, as two of her books were banned in her native Ireland. It is also interesting to note that upon its initial release, Brief Encounter was itself banned in Ireland, due to its sympathetic portrayal of adultery.

Laura walks from the library into the chemist’s shop

But then we see Laura turn and step from the library into a chemist’s shop (see right). What??? From our travels overseas, I knew that Boots is a British pharmacy chain. What’s the deal? Is this library actually a bookstore? Is this just an odd film set?

Doing a little more digging (thanks, IMDb!), there’s an interesting answer:

Laura borrows books from the Boots Lending Library. Such Lending Libraries were an offshoot of Boots Pharmacies. Boots is a major pharmacy chain in the UK. It was founded in 1849 and still exists, although in a much different, more diversified form. The Lending Libraries were started in 1898.

Library label for Boots Booklovers Library

Boots is still around, but their lending libraries ceased in the late 1960’s. The Boots Lending Library was an example of a subscription library. You’d pay a small monthly or annual fee to the library — or a small fee per item — to be able to check out materials. Sound familiar? It’s basically the same idea as video rental stores or Netflix.

Ok, back to the film. That’s the only time we see the librarian, Miss Lewis — a typical Information Provider seen only for a few seconds — but her character still plays a role in the film, as you’ll see.

The library books are also mentioned a few more times throughout. A couple of minutes later, Laura and Alec are enjoying lunch, and he asks if she comes into town every week.

“Yes, I do the week’s shopping. Change my library book, have lunch and generally go to the pictures. Not a very exciting routine, but it makes a change.”

After spending the afternoon together, Laura is thinking about Alec as she boards the train to go back home. She sees a clergyman in the corner and flushes: “I felt myself blushing and opened my library book and pretended to read.”

Just over an hour into the film, their would-be love affair comes to a head. We see Laura running down the wet streets, with her library book under her arm. She knows she’s late and ducks into a tobacco shop to phone her husband. We hear only her side of the conversation:

No librarian in this phone booth

“Yes, everything’s perfectly all right, but I shan’t be home to dinner.


I’m with Miss Lewis. Miss Lewis, dear. You know, the librarian I told you about at Boots.


Yes, I can’t explain in any detail because she’s outside the box now.


I met her in the High Street a little while ago in a terrible state. Her mother’s been taken ill, and I’ve promised to stay with her until the doctor comes.


Yes, I know, but she’s always been awfully kind to me, and I feel so sorry for her.”

So she uses poor Miss Lewis (“Miss” – of course) as an excuse for being late!!!

Why? Most likely, the library book she had with her provided the inspiration. Also, being with a librarian MUST be respectable and above board, right? 😉 There would be no questions asked (and really, why WOULDN’T one feel sorry for a poor librarian?), and as Laura says, “It’s awfully easy to lie when you know that you’re trusted implicitly.”

I can’t help but wonder how Laura will react to Miss Lewis the next time she visits the lending library…

Weekend Special: There should be more Thanksgiving songs

Harry Potter

Image by Profound Whatever via Flickr

For those who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you had a lovely time! Here are some recent things I’m thankful for…

♥ Most of the items on this movie fan’s list of things to be thankful for this year. Personal favorite? “The Harry Potter franchise ending gracefully, and with its most beautifully shot film yet.”

♥ The elegant ruins of the Neon Boneyard, where neon signs in Las Vegas go to die. The photos here are gorgeously poignant.

♥ The chance to skip along a timeline of time travel literature? I LOVE that Harry Potter makes the list!

Roger Ebert. I ♥ you. Your optimism, your critical insights, and your total love of movies, inspire me every time.

Ok, NOW Christmas caroling can begin.

Adventures in Trivia

When I first started out researching the field of reel librarians — this was back in my undergrad days — one of the first books I came across was a book called Bib/Triv: Profundities, Banalities, and Trivialities in Libraryland, by Frederick Duda.

An odd-yet-charming title, no?

It’s fun still to flip through this slim little volume, published in 1992 by McFarland & Co.

The back of the book makes me chuckle:  But if the idea of an entire volume bursting with succulent morsels of unheard of trivia about books, libraries and librarians makes your mouth water and your hands tremble — well, you probably need counseling more urgently than you need this book.

The bulk of this book is made up of 100 sets of trivia questions, divided into four areas:  the arts, books/authors, literature. and potpourri. Wouldn’t this be a PERFECT resource to convert into a librarian-themed version of Jeopardy?

There are several reel-librarian related questions, sprinkled in amongst the arts questions. Samples include:

What is the message on the license plate of the beautiful special collections librarian in the 1989 Paramount movie about baseball?. (from page 5)

In the 1978 Paramount movie Foul Play, what piece of library equipment does the librarian use to fend off an attack by a paid assassin? (from pages 44-45)

In The Music Man, Mrs. Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, the wife of the mayor of River City, Iowa, denounces Marian Paroo for the “smutty” books she gave to Mrs. Shinn’s daughter. Which of the following is the book in question?  (from page 55)

a. The Picture of Dorian Gray
b. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
c. Sister Carrie
d. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Do you know the answers to these questions? If so, drop a guess in the comments!

In his introduction, Duda reveals that his interest in the image of the librarian was a topic he did not realize was “problematical until I entered the field.” I totally get what he’s saying! He also reveals how he “once thought that librarians were depicted as no better or worse than the rest of humanity.”  Before long, however, he “found innumerable stereotypes and only some examples of attractive and praiseworthy men and women.”

But he winds up on a positive note. “We can laugh at ourselves, and we should.” Amen!

It’s a fun book to revisit, and one I’m thankful I have. 🙂

He’s… Conan the Librarian!

Never before in the history of motion pictures has there been a screen presence so commanding, so powerful, so deadly. He’s… Conan the Librarian!

I haven’t featured that many male reel librarians so far, so let’s bring out the big guns (or swords, rather) with Conan! The! Librarian! from the 1989 cult comedy, UHF. In this film, George Newman (Weird Al Yankovic) takes over an almost-bankrupt public TV station, and it becomes an unexpected hit. And one of those hits is showcased in a brief sketch — only 40 seconds long! — in the form of a television ad for the show “Conan the Librarian,” a parody of the famous “Conan the Barbarian” character created by R. E. Howard. I think it’s a bit fun, too, that the name serves as a subtle (and unintentional?) riff off the “Marian the Librarian” character and song from The Music Man (1962).

Conan’s first scene shows a balding, middle-aged man with thick glasses, cable-knit sweater, and tweedy jacket (really, doesn’t HE look more like a stereotypical male librarian?) who asks Conan the Librarian, “Can you tell me where I can find a book on astronomy?”

Conan’s classic response?  To heave the poor man up by his lapels, of course, and shout, “Don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?”

FYI, the astronomy books would be in the 520’s. And as a librarian, I have repeated this line — and Schwarzenegger-type intonation —  many times. It is ALWAYS funny!

Conan then goes on to showcase more what-NOT-to-do examples for providing reference services, including slicing a young man in two because his books were overdue.

UHF successfully parodies the “Guardian of the Library” image and the librarian character types who display anal-retentive qualities — the Spinster Librarian and her male equivalent, the Anti-Social Male Librarian immediately spring to mind — who are prone to shushing anyone who dares to be loud in a library, or reel librarians who express over-the-top anxiety about late or damaged books. Conan the Librarian is a classic Comic Relief character type, with its crude portrayal of librarianship and extreme physical characteristics.

The scene’s over-the-top humor is more potent because it plays against type: a reel librarian, especially a male librarian, is often portrayed as weak or effeminate. Conan the Librarian shows off his physical superiority at every opportunity. (Fun fact! We first see Conan hanging out in the 613’s, which is the Dewey Decimal number for Aerobics.) Librarians are also usually portrayed as intelligent — even if a condescending type of “book smart” — and this Conan characterization riffs off of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dim-yet-tough brand of acting in his classic 1982 Conan. Although Conan the Librarian is a VERY bad librarian, he is a hero in one sense: he helps save the UHF television station. He’s so bad that he’s funny.

So although only 40 seconds long — again, a short scene provides an immortal reel librarian! — this scene packs a punch (literally) while laying waste to several reel librarian stereotypical traits. Just as Conan the Librarian helped save the fictional TV station, I think this funny scene and unforgettable librarian helped save the film itself. UHF was a notorious flop at the time it was released, but has since solidified fame with its cult status.

As iconic as UHF‘s Conan the Librarian is, it seems the character first starred in a 1987 Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon.

Source: Mike Peters, Mother Goose and Grimm, 18 January 1987

And if you can’t get enough of Conan the Librarian? Check out The Adventures of Conan the Librarian, as well as other pop culture references in the Wikipedia entry for the character.